Recent Commonplace Entries


“Intellectual honesty is the first casualty of moral outrage.” (Antony Beevor’s favourite quote, from Prospect, July)

“Unfortunately, the progressives who dominate policy in the Biden administration thought there would be little risk to having the government issue enormous quantities of debt, then letting the central bank soak it up. Their anthem, which goes under the rubric of ‘modern monetary theory’ (MMT), is really just a distilled version of a line many left-leaning academics have long been pushing: that government can vastly expand its debt issuance to pay for social spending without ever having to cut spending or raise taxes, including through inflation.” (Kenneth Rogoff, in review of Christopher Leonard’s The Lords of Easy Money, in TLS, July 1)

“  . . .most memoirs, if not loaded guns, are written for the purpose of retribution and revenge. This is by no means a criticism: retribution and revenge are strong reasons for writing a book. You want to put the record straight, to tell your side of things, to correct a wrong. Even the mildest-mannered memoirs have reprisal at their hearts. A memoir of midlife marrow growing may well be a missile directed at a particular person, such as the teacher who gave you bad marks in English.” (Frances Wilson, in Literary Review, July)

“From Western leftists eager to see him as some kind of socialist descendant of the mythologized USSR (though, in reality, Russia is more of a neoliberal paradise) to American M16-and-motherhood activists who consider him a guardian of moral conservatism (though Russia has liberal abortion laws but tight gun control), everyone can have their own personal Putin.” (Mark Galeotti, in review of Philip Short’s Putin: His Life and Times, in Literary Review, July)

“I confess, I have a prejudice about that particular adjective [‘magisterial’] when applied to books. To me, it evokes a lengthy and self-regarding tome in which the author drops the names of distinguished interviewees with monotonous regularity, wears the depth of her research heavily and covers every base, from childhood traumas to the toll of the years, with little sense of an overarching narrative.” (Mark Galeotti, in review of Philip Short’s Putin: His Life and Times, in Literary Review, July)

“To Peter Sichel, John Foster [Dulles] was a figure of pure malevolence. ‘He was a terrible man. Evil, totally evil.’ The old spymaster lowered his voice in a conspiratorial whisper. ’You know, he went to church every Sunday. Never trust a religious man.’” (from Scott Anderson’s The Quiet Americans, p 313)

“Beans are to the cooked breakfast as the Dutch Mercenary Forces were to the Royal Netherlands Indies Army. Keep them in check and they will perform unglamorous but vital tasks about the empire of the fry-up; sweetening sausage, lubricating toast… Exert insufficient discipline upon them, however, and they will soon exhibit their mania for chaos… they engulf an egg… they drown bacon…Your breakfast paradise becomes a gooey mess.” (a contributor to the London Review of Breakfasts blog, quoted by Henry Jeffreys in the Spectator, July 9)

“Peter Hennessy once declared that, in the absence of a written constitution, the UK had to rely on the ‘good chap theory of government’. But what happens if the prime minister no longer even pretends to be a good chap?” (Ferdinand Mount in London Review of Books, July 7)

“Conjecture is what makes ‘prehistory’ so intriguing. It may be irritating for a conservative academic to have the laity intrude on his terrain, but the joy of history is universal. It lies in watching the past shift from impossible to implausible to sometimes even probable. Nothing is more dangerous than a closed mind.” (Simon Jenkins, in letter to TLS, July 15)

We Do?

“Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford, has looked back to the distant past to discover why we believe in a transcendent world or supernatural gods. This, he argues, is not a mental aberration, but a function that draws otherwise quarrelsome and unruly human beings together, and improves our health and wellbeing. Beneath the veneer of current doctrinal orthodoxies there lurks an ancient and universal belief in a transcendental world and a divine power that can help us – a yearning and conviction that is part of our human nature.” (Karen Armstrong, in review of Robin Dunbar’s How Religion Evolved, in TLS, July 15)

“Human beings want purpose. We want meaning. We want to belong to something larger than ourselves. The decisions we make in the face of wild problems don’t just lead to good days and bad days. They define us. They determine who we are, who we might aspire to become, who we might come to be.” (Russ Roberts, in NYT Opinion, July 24)

“The living elude us, and it’s only possible to understand people after they’re dead, because it’s only then they sit still long enough for us to see them clearly.” (David Treuer’s ‘writing mentor’, as told by him in NYT Magazine, July 24)

“Instinctively I identify with the person who said that when he heard a politician talk of his vision, he recommended him to consult an optician.” (David Trimble, from his 1998 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, recorded in his NYT obituary, July 26)

“For though it may be true that we should not tell lies, steal, or behave inconsiderately, a fiction-write is heading for disaster if he makes the direct demonstration of such truths one of his main aims.” (Ronald Hingley, in Introduction to The Oxford Chekhov (3))

“The fact is that you find as much humour in Chekhov’s plays as you are qualified by your own sense of humour, or assisted by skilled interpretation, to find. The plays, like so many of the stories, are built on tension between the humorous and the serious, so that it is not really possible to assess the extent to which they are serious – quite apart from the fact that ‘humorous’ and ‘serious’ are not concepts which necessarily exclude each other.” (Ronald Hingley, in Introduction to The Oxford Chekhov (3))

2 Responses to Recent Commonplace Entries

  1. Michael

    Not sure where to find on the map “his . . . redbrick house at Purely with its back-garden tennis-court”. Just south of Corydon, perhaps? And a few other typos this month, which are I believe abhorred by you.

    • coldspur

      Thank you, Michael. That damned autocorrect feature, I am sure. I have rebuked my Chief Editor, Thelma. But I am responsible: the buck stops here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.